As I have mentioned before, the Steelers need an additional defensive lineman, who can play nose tackle and also rotate at defensive end. Considering that the nose tackle was only on the field for 30% of the snaps, a player who can also be a part of the rotation at defensive end is critical. Cameron Heyward played 88% of the defensive snaps and Stephon Tuitt played 78% of the snaps. By season’s end, those two players were worn out, and in turn their play diminished, which affected the play of the entire defense. Moreover, when Heyward and/or Tuitt were given a breather, teams would readily move the ball on the Steelers. This can best be exemplified by Denver’s lone touchdown drive in last season’s playoff game.
There are a plethora of defensive linemen in this draft. So much so, that a “first round” type of player can be found in the second round. Ergo, one could say that it would be more logical to wait to draft a defensive lineman, such as Austin Johnson (Penn St.), Javon Hargrave (South Carolina St.), or Adolphus Washington (Ohio St.) at pick 58. That is very true, very logical. Then again, at pick 25, one could get a “top fifteen” player… which is what I would prefer, and thus, those are the players on whom I shall focus my attention.
There are quite a few defensive linemen who will go in the first round of this draft. Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) is the consensus top player, and I would gladly take him, but the odds are slim that he drops to 25. On the other end of the first-round spectrum, there is Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech) and Kenny Clark (UCLA). I like both of these players, but their value is probably somewhere around pick 31. Six spots may not seem like that big of a difference, but in draft terms dropping back that far would be equivalent to acquiring an extra fourth-round pick. So, while I like both of those players, they would be “reaches” at 25.
In short, there are three players who I feel would be legitimate choices for pick 25: A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), Jarran Reed (Alabama), and Andrew Billing (Baylor).
Andrew Billings, Baylor
Billings is the best nose tackle to come out of college since Dontarri Poe. He is powerful and disruptive, but also shows enough quickness to play defensive end (which, as we already discussed, is very important). The thing that stands out about him is that he was an offensive linemen prior to college… so, as good as he currently is, he is still learning the position. As in: Billings is already great and will only get better. Lastly, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and Joe Greene (yes, you read that correctly, I said Joe Greene) ate dinner with Billings’ parents… which is… well, it is pretty darn telling as to what the Steelers think about this kid.
A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Robinson is a physical specimen. He is a big, strong run-stuffing nose tackle, who has enough pass-rushing skills to stay on the field during passing downs. I have watched some of his tapes and I have not seen him miss a tackle; simply, once he gets his hands on the opposing player, they go down. The more I watch of him, them more amazed I become. Lastly, Robinson has some experience playing defensive end; so, he seems like another perfect candidate. It should be noted that Robinson came to Heinz Field to visit with Tomlin, Colbert, and defensive-line coach, Johnny Mitchell.
Jarran Reed, Alabama
Reed played every position on the defensive line at Alabama. Since the Steelers are looking for a player who can play multiple positions, Reed would be the perfect choice… except he is not a very good pass-rusher. Yes, he lined up at defensive end, but only on first and second down. Still, Reed is used to lining up at various spots along the line; that is the type of position flexibility that the Steelers need. Reed is a similar player to Cam Heyward, although Reed is better against the run, while simultaneously being not nearly as good against the pass. As far as Pittsburgh’s interest goes, at Alabama’s pro day, when Reed ran his drills, Colbert was front & center, eyes glued on Reed.
In summation, at pick 25 I would be fine with any of the aforementioned defensive linemen: Rankins, Butler, Clark, Billings, Robinson, or Reed. But, I truly think that it comes down to one of those final three. I have done several mock drafts by myself, as well as a few with other Steelers fans, and almost always, one of those three guys is still there at 25. Sure, a shutdown cornerback would be nice, as would a hard-hitting safety, but ultimately the game of football is won by adding talented players to the trenches. Ergo, come next Thursday, that is exactly what I expect to come to fruition.